All adults have their hard knock life story. My parents told me the ones about walking to school, in the snow, uphill both ways. I share with the young ones in my life the hardship of getting music. There was no instant music, no YouTube or iTunes. In the small Midwest towns where I grew up, stores didn’t carry music I liked. There was no finding Goodie Mob, Guy, Monie Love, Queen Latifah, Zhane. And definitely, it wasn’t playing on the radio.
The growth and acceptance of Hip-Hop and R&B has been a godsend for me. It has meant that I can easily access the creative musical stories written by people who look like me. My nephews who live in a small town in Indiana can hear on their local radio the same artists that my niece in Chicago hears. There is a sense of accomplishment for the community and pride when I see a Hip-Hop artist interviewed alongside Warren Buffet for his business sense. Yet, I still have those moments when I wonder, “should other people be listening to this music?”.
The first time I had one of these moments was almost 10 years ago, hanging out downtown. The DJ put on one of my favorite songs and I grabbed my girls and ran to the dance floor with almost the whole club. Yep, in this club full of mostly non-Black people, they were all saying, “That’s my jam!” just as I said it. As we’re all on the floor dancing and singing I started noticing that they were singing ALL the words. The lyrics included the N-word; there wasn’t awkwardness or using the moment to do a head down dance move. Nope, they kept their heads up and sang along without hesitation. Did the rules change because it was music? Nope, we settled that when it was decided that Jennifer Lopez couldn’t sing it just because Ja Rule wrote it. Eminem knows better, this audience should too. Maybe the music shouldn’t include the word if the audience is more diverse. But why should the artist be unable to speak in his/her own language to accommodate this growing audience?
These moments have gone to a whole new level with the increased acceptance of conscious Hip-Hop. The carelessness that people are taking with my pain. There has been this last year, more than I’ve ever noticed before, popular songs about the pain of living as a person of color in this country. These amazing, conscious, relevant songs haven’t just been released; they have hit the top of the charts. Everyone is hearing them. I was stopped at a stoplight and heard at full blast a song that has regularly made me cry. I have cried because the lyrics mirrored my experiences. The tears were joyful because someone understood and painful because as humans that shouldn’t be our experience. So, I turned to the face the car, prepared to give the Black nod. The nod that says, I see you, I’m here too. But, it wasn’t another Black person. I have no idea if the man playing that song had listened to the lyrics and also been moved to tears. Maybe, he had heard the lyrics and thought what is wrong with this world and it moved him to be a part of a social change movement. Maybe he was playing it loud because the lyrics had moved him to think the whole world should hear this, not just people who love hip-hop. That is the opportunity of these songs. Opportunity for others who will never truly understand the experience, but can at least see that it is painful and inhumane.
That is what I hope. But all I saw was a man dancing in his car, happy as can be, enjoying the song that was a recap of my pain.